Taking pot luck in mam’s yard

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I’VE turned my attention to my mam’s garden this week and its state of neglect has thrown up a few problems.

She’s housebound and her back yard is where she lives her outdoor life.

Yard is a misleading name. Although small, she’s managed to cram in a mini-orchard – three apple trees, a plum, cherry and a pear.

There’s strawberries (or were), salad leaves and herbs in troughs and pots.

It was here as an eight-year-old I planted the pip that became my first apple tree, grown in a tub until I took it along to my house, where it still thrives, 37 years later.

Lack of space has made vertical a virtue.

Pyracantha “Orange Glow” covers one wall, with varied clematis along another and pots hanging from old sets of ladders on another, filled with hanging annuals.

Later than usual this year because of the bad weather, I added the summer stuff – tomatoes, salad greens, dwarf beans, annuals (lobelia and petunias) and ornamental gourds.

One thing that’s thrived is moss and lichen – I had to scrape and top dress every pot.

Unfortunately, as so much is in containers, many have fallen victim to vine weevils, my most hated pest.

Adults lay their eggs in the soil which then hatch out into fat white grubs which devour roots, maiming established plants and killing younger ones outright. This was the fate of my mam’s strawberries which keeled over in days.

You can get a Provado vine weevil killer, but only for use on non-edibles, or go for a biological solution in nematodes, a natural predator.

She’s got a pergola-covered seat, so to clamber over that, I’ve planted a cup-and-saucer vine (Cobaea scandens), a vigorous annual with purplish leaves and showy flowers – quite a showstopper.

It’s important to remember that in such wet weather (an understatement, I know), that nutrients in the soil of containers will leach out and be literally washed away.

Top dress pots and tubs with an all-purpose granular feed, such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone, to keep nutrient levels up.

Watch out for pests and diseases that thrive in the damp. For slugs and snails use rain-proof pellets - beer traps will only get diluted in this rain.

If you want to be totally organic, get your wellies and raincoat on and pick them off plants and soil in the evening, when they are most active.

Moulds and mildew are also rampant - use the appropriate fungicide and follow manufacturer’s directions.

Plants of the week

I LOVE herbs – there’s nothing quite like them to get you through the “hungry gap” before the main crops start producing.

Chives not only taste great, they look smashing as an edging, with their pink flowers.

Have some in non-prominent positions so you can cut them down to the ground, wash and chop them, then freeze them (they don’t dry successfully).

I keep mine in old Chinese takeaway cartons - you can cook them straight from the freezer.

The other top herb this week is bronze fennel. It’s a feathery beauty that self-seeds around, providing a perfect foil for other plants.

And if you like aniseed, you’ll be hooked. After rain, or brushing past a plant, the fragrance is intoxicating - Sambuca for the nose!

It’s not as strongly flavoured as the ordinary green variety, but much prettier and it’s really good with white fish and egg dishes.